When the Queensland Theatre Company presented the world premiere of Ladies in Black last November, little did they know how strong a reception it would receive from both critics and the general public alike.
Following a wonderfully received Brisbane run, the show travelled to Melbourne where it received similar acclaim, and then at last month’s Helpmann Awards, Ladies in Black walked away with the gong for Best New Australian Work and received a further five nominations.
Last week, members of the media gathered at Sydney’s Lyric Theatre where dates were announced for a new national tour of Ladies in Black, which commences in Sydney on January 3, 2017. The show then returns for an encore season to Brisbane from January 28, before a further encore season in Melbourne from February 25, and then it will make its Canberra debut on March 27.
Ladies in Black is based on Madeleine St John’s 1993 novel, The Women in Black. The book for the musical has been penned by Australian screenwriter Carolyn Burns and its original score was composed by legendary singer songwriter Tim Finn of Split Enz fame. It tells a story of fashion, friendship and 1950s Australia, taking place in a stylish department store in a city on the cusp of becoming cosmopolitan. A bright-eyed, bookish school leaver, Lisa (played by Sarah Morrison), is about to join the ranks on the department store’s sales floor.
Morrison returns to Ladies in Black after playing the role of Lisa in the premiere season. She tells Theatre People how excited she is to bring the show back to the stage, particularly for its first appearance in the Harbour City.
“I honestly think, in 20 years’ time, we’ll be seeing reruns of this show,” Morrison says. “It will be a show that will continue to pop up until I’m long gone because it speaks so truly about Australia, Sydney in particular… It’s a dream it’s coming here because it’s a story about Sydney.”
Lisa is Morrison’s breakout role in music theatre, and her performance has received wide acclaim. She talks about the production process leading up to last November’s Brisbane opening, in which the show continued to be moulded into shape right up until the last minute.
“We were in the room and, honestly, it changed day to day, and even a few days out from our first previews, Simon [Phillips] – the mastermind that he is – took an entire chunk… of it out, and… the way we got to the ending changed entirely,” Morrison recalls.
Bobby Fox, who plays the role of Rudi, tells Theatre People he’s enjoyed the process immensely since the very first reading.
“I just loved it. It was such a great, great thing to do,” he says.
“It’s been, honestly, a labour of joy… working with Simon, who just has so much respect for actors and for the process, and he doesn’t get in the way and he allows you to find your own feet. And then if something doesn’t work, he’ll guide you away from that, but certainly lets it happen on the floor.”
Fox was quickly won over by the show’s book and his character.
“As soon as I went into the audition, I remember reading the audition scenes [and] going, ‘This guy’s a mental case! He’s brilliant! He doesn’t care! He’s just big and wonderful and joyous and happy!’ So, I just went with that…
“I did the audition, got the show, read the script, read the book then read the script again, and was just like, ‘This is gorgeous. It’s just gorgeous.
“Of course, you never really know how things are going to go, and then we all found ourselves sitting smack bang in the middle of a stinking hit! People were just begging for tickets, calling up the box office going, ‘I’ve seen it now four times. If there’s a cancellation, you have to call me!’”
So, why has Ladies in Black struck such a chord with audiences?
“I think it’s a little bit refreshing,” Fox says. “It’s a nice rear view mirror look at the country at that time… So many people go, ‘I know that girl’ or ‘I was that girl’ or ‘I know those guys’…”
Morrison similarly says the story speaks to its Australian audiences.
“I almost guarantee anyone will come along and, at least, have a good laugh and enjoy the story,” she says. “It’s a really beautiful, great story.”
Fox has enjoyed having the opportunity to play a role in a show not previously staged anywhere else in the world.
“What I really loved about it was the freedom – the freedom to choose, the freedom to invent, which is such a rare opportunity as an actor in music theatre, especially in this country,” he explains.
He also heaps praise on Finn for the score.
“Personally, I think the melodies are genius. Melodically, the show is just stunning. The more I’d listen to it, the more I would think about the melodies. I’d think about them away from the show.
“I think the chance QTC took putting [the show] on and trusting Simon… everything in succession was the right move by everyone.”
LADIES IN BLACK – National Tour Details
Cast includes: Natalie Gamsu, Bobby Fox, Kathryn McIntyre, Carita Farrer Spencer, Greg Stone, Kate Cole, Madeleine Jones, Ellen Simpson and Sarah Morrison as Lisa.
Website: ladiesinblack.com.au #ladiesinblack2017
Brisbane – Playhouse, QPAC
28 January – 19 February 2017
Phone: 136 246 or queenslandtheatre.com.au
Melbourne – Regent Theatre
25 February – 19 March 2017
Phone: 1300 111 011 or ticketmaster.com.au
Canberra – Canberra Theatre Centre
27 March – 2 April 2017
Phone: (02) 6275 2700 or canberratheatrecentre.com.au